With each passing month, the unemployment lines swell with downtrodden members of America’s middle class, once the strength of our nation. Without an infusion of jobs, their plight will continue to grow. And that spells even more poverty among the disadvantaged. All the while, Congress continues to posture, in hopes of gaining political clout and eventual re-election. Any mention of poverty and the emerging threat to our social structure is met with spurious charges of “class warfare.”
Into this maelstrom fell two news stories—one from July and another in September—that did not receive the massive attention they deserved. If we continue to ignore their message, we will continue to put our societal stability and fundamental values in jeopardy.
The July news, from the Pew Research Center, tells us that the median wealth (including real estate) of white households is 20 times greater than black households and 18 time greater than Hispanic households. More specifically, the typical white household has $113,149 in wealth, the black household $5,677 and the Hispanic household $6,325. About a third of black families have zero or negative wealth. The number is 31 percent for Hispanics and 15 percent for whites.
Here’s the kicker: These ratios are about twice the size they were two decades ago.
The September news, from the U.S. Census Bureau, tells us that 15.1 percent of Americans live below the poverty line — $22,314 a year for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual. That’s up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This means that 46.2 million Americans live in poverty, 2.6 million more than in 2009. We now have the largest poverty percentage of any developed country. If that’s not enough to break your heart, consider this: 22 percent of children under the age of 18 now live in poverty, up from 17 percent in 2000.
And here’s the kicker on this one: This is the largest number of Americans living in poverty since the development of the measure in 1959.
These statistics, and the stories behind them, are grim warnings to a society where the social fabric is being stretched to its breaking point. Add to this the constant news about the mega-wealthy, their salaries and lifestyles, and the perception of a government that favors the rich and influential, and you have a toxic mixture, the kind that recently exploded into days of rioting in British cities.
It would be too easy and unfair to blame this situation on one political party. The issues of race and poverty have been with us since our nation’s inception. But unlike past years, the problems are getting worse. No happy ending is in sight and the promise of a better tomorrow for these millions is quickly disappearing. And as their hopes fade, so do those of the nation – along with our stability and our ideals.
We need to let the people in power know that this is simply unacceptable — that Americans will not give our support to anyone who will not devote their time, energy and resources to the eradication of poverty. Among the many issues we face, this truly can be listed as a priority.